This is the first entry in a series of posts following award winning Domein Pietershof in Belgium throughout 2017, from winter to harvest and beyond, describing the challenges of making wine in Northern Europe. What does it take to fill bottles with wine after a year of hard work, hopes and despairs?
The entry on Belgium in Jancis Robinson’s latest The Oxford Companion to Wine has the same length as French oenologist Michel Rolland. A whole country, historically known for importing large amounts of Bordeaux wine, equally important to the man who convinced numerous Bordeaux estates into producing overripe, deep-coloured red wine?
Whenever we go on a family holiday, I encourage my daughters to join me in a winery visit. Given their age, 10 & 5, obviously not to enrich their palates but to get a sense of place and feel the enthusiasm and proudness with which owners often speak about their land and products. For this reason, I always try to hook up with small-scale family owned wineries.
Last summer, the centre of Italy was our destination, so plenty of options to choose from. Tuscany would have been the obvious choice as Italy’s cultural heart and Sangiovese heartland, but the thought of queueing tourists on the autostrada Chiantigiana made us decide to turn left and head for le Marche. This region in the eastern side of Italy is still rather unknown, probably because of its famous neighbours Tuscany and Umbria. The Marche region has beautiful beaches, endless rolling hills and loads of history. It’s one of those holiday dilemma’s: once you find a lovely spot you would like to share it with the world, but at the same time wanting to keep it to yourself to leave it unspoilt.
When talking wine, most people think of Western-Europe when referring to Old World, yet few seem to know that further east lies an even older world when it comes to wine growing and making. Forget Greece or Italy, grapes have already been cultivated a few thousand years ago next to the Caucasus Mountains.
Although the first viticultural activities are said to date back to an area which is now northern Iran, Caucasian countries like Georgia and Armenia surely contributed to the birth of serious wine making. Dramatic landscapes, planted with indigenous grapes carrying unpronounceable names like Mtsvane or Rkatsiteli, where winemakers still use ancient vinification techniques (e.g. qvevri, large clay vessels buried in the ground, meant for fermentation and maturation of grapes, even for whites resulting in unusual tannic white wine).
Google wine label and you get plenty of hits on what should be on a wine label. Most of it is pretty obvious stuff on what, who, where. The additional pregnant woman warning is praiseworthy but feels like telling a Formula-1 driver that he’s into a dangerous sport (when will there finally be a she?). Same for the government warning on wine bottles in the USA.
What’s more interesting to know is what the label doesn’t say.